On January 27, 2004 Ha-Aretz reported, "Muslim leaders from the territories met in Cairo a few days ago, with guests Rabbi Menahem Fruman and Rabbi Michael Melchior [Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister]. Unless religion is brought into the picture, says Melchior, no agreement can be forged. Last week, January 12-15, an unusual conference featuring 35 religious leaders from the Gaza Strip and West Bank was held in Cairo...Though no current leading Hamas operatives took part in the event, some participants are known sympathizers of Islamic militants...In his [Rabbi Melchior's] view, the fact that political leaders have ignored religious dimensions of the Jewish-Arab dispute has damaged the peace process. During Ehud Barak's tenure as prime minister, Melchior proposed that a Jewish-Muslim dialogue be initiated; but Barak rejected the idea, arguing that tackling religious issues would only worsen the situation. The same idea held sway among Palestinian leaders."